Is Wizards Of The Coast Ruining Modern By Unbanning Stoneforge Mystic?

What an announcement! Hogaak and Faithless Looting out of Modern, Stoneforge Mystic in … there’s a lot to absorb. Luckily we have Shaheen Soorani, Sam Black, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa ready to give their takes. Vote for your winner at the end!

Welcome to another edition of Fact or Fiction! Today, Shaheen Soorani, Sam Black, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa are here to render their verdicts on five statements about the latest Banned and Restricted announcement by Wizards of the Coast. Don’t forget to vote for the winner at the end!

1. Banning Faithless Looting in Modern was a good decision.

Shaheen Soorani: Fact. Faithless Looting has a far wider impact than just its current application. It’s a barrier to current and future play design, preventing Research and Development from making sweet graveyard interactions. Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis was the symptom, not the cause, of an unhealthy advantage that graveyard decks have in Modern.

Aggressive decks that utilize creatures would always be inferior to graveyard-based alternatives. Zoo, Infect, Burn, Orzhov, and even Humans were weaker variants of the Bridgevine/Hogaak decks. With those decks getting hit by multiple bans, the graveyard threat would still loom large with Faithless Looting. With it banned, graveyard decks will be able to flourish with future cards, and not push out other aggressive decks. This is my hope and it was a great decision to put Faithless Looting with Ponder and Preordain moving forward.

Sam Black: Fact. In the past, I’ve said that Mox Opal was the most powerful card in Modern. I think that changed with Modern Horizons because of cards like Force of Vigor and Smiting Helix (which was overshadowed by other graveyard cards). Faithless Looting might be the most powerful card in Legacy (this is a bold claim, but I think it’s better than Brainstorm, so it can’t be far off), so its power level in Modern is way off the charts.

I lean more than most toward liking bans on objective power level rather than toward intentionally sculpting a format, but it’s reasonable to make the case that a card shouldn’t be banned on power level alone, but only when it makes the format worse.

There were so many Faithless Looting decks that it might seem like it was contributing to diversity, but I think we were at the point where the strength of those decks were more stifling than one might have realized.

I’m way more excited about the Faithless Looting ban than the Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis ban.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fiction. To me, the single biggest strength of Modern as a format is that you can just play your deck as much as you want. You can comfortably invest both time and money in putting together a deck and learning to play it and, with a few exceptions, you will be able to play it in any Modern tournament for many years – not having a rotation is what makes it different from Standard. The Faithless Looting ban hits several different decks (Dredge, Izzet Phoenix, Hollow One, Mardu Pyromancer, potentially stuff like Grixis Death’s Shadow), many of which I would consider healthy, which means a lot of people had their Modern decks suddenly rendered unplayable by this decision, and that’s a very big cost.

My personal preference in situations like this is to ban specific cards rather than an enabler that is played in different ways throughout the format. If you think, for example, that Dredge is a problem, I’d prefer you just banned a card from Dredge – there’s no reason to stop decks like Hollow One and Mardu from existing. In fact, as far as enabling degenerate decks goes, I think Faithless Looting is actually mostly on the okay side, because a majority of Looting decks are fair/healthy, unlike cards like Ancient Stirrings or Mox Opal that are almost literally only played in degenerate decks in one way or another. In the end, it feels weird to single out Faithless Looting as the card to be banned here.

2. Banning Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis in Modern was a good decision.

Shaheen Soorani: Fact. This was a softball down the center of the plate. I completely understand why they didn’t do this right off the bat, hoping they would be able to keep every card in Modern Horizons around. Unfortunately, Bridge from Below was a small piece of the graveyard puzzle. Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis fit into every graveyard shell, pushing each one over the edge, and the format suffered tremendously for it.

This ban was as obvious as it gets, but I wrote extensively for months that Modern needs more. Banning this symptom, not the root cause of graveyard issues in the format, would most certainly cause future harm. Now the Research and Development squad can make a slight future error and not receive the absolute full punishment for it.

Sam Black: Fact. I don’t think there’s really anyone even debating this at this point. The conversion rate and win rates of the deck have been off the charts despite everyone knowing about it and the graveyard theoretically being easy to hate in Modern.

Part of the problem is that most graveyard hate simply doesn’t reliably work against Hogaak.

Most of the problem is, how on earth did anyone think a free 8/8 trample that you don’t need to draw and can return from your graveyard if killed was a good idea?

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. Hogaak was simply too powerful of a card as a zero-mana 8/8 trampler that you didn’t even need to draw to get to cast. The core of the deck was so strong that we saw people filling the remaining slots with basically anything they wanted and it just didn’t matter – the deck won anyway. The level of hate played was unprecedented and the results from the deck were also unprecedented, and if you can’t hate the deck more than you already are, the only solution left is to ban it.

3. Unbanning Stoneforge Mystic in Modern was a good decision.

Shaheen Soorani: Fact. This has been my second crusade, after the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. There were many cards that started out banned in Modern because of the fear they instilled during their time in Standard or old Extended. Unfortunately for control fans, many of these staples hit home hard. Jace, the Mind Sculptor has proven to be a safe unban, enhancing blue decks to a competitive level. Stoneforge Mystic will follow the same model and prove to be another smart unban by Wizards of the Coast.

I’ve written extensively on this subject as well, noting that Stoneforge Mystic boosts archetypes that have previously struggled to gain traction. When the format is wide open, control does not do well. That has now changed. With an early-game threat that also defends well, Azorius Control (and similar archetypes) will have that missing piece. It is the pressure and the life preserver that control has yearned for and it is now back.

Other archetypes improve as well. Midrange decks that needed a diverse early game threat now have it. These could be Abzan decks, Death and Taxes strategies, Orzhov Eldrazi, or any deck that has Aether Vial in it. The door is wide open now for these decks to compete with what were once superior strategies, fighting to get their day in the sun.

Sam Black: ??? Look, I straight-up don’t know.

There are serious issues with the fundamental gameplay of the card. It’s pretty repetitive and provides a small package that can be slotted into almost any deck such that you can end up with extremely homogenous gameplay even if it looks like people are playing several different Stoneforge archetypes. The worst case is that it makes Modern less fun but escapes getting rebanned because it’s in so many decks, and now I can’t play anything sweet because it can’t keep up with Stoneforge, rather than not being able to play anything sweet because it can’t keep up with Faithless Looting.

On the other hand, if you put Stoneforge Mystic in your deck, there’s a very good chance you’re trying to play a game that lasts more than four turns, and Modern would likely benefit from more people trying to do that, and getting a cheap two-for-one isn’t exactly game-breaking in Modern these days.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fiction. I think Stoneforge Mystic is a deceptively powerful card (and it already looks very powerful). People like to look at games that end on Turn 3 and sarcastically say “Hah, don’t you wish you could play with Stoneforge Mystic now!” when it clearly wouldn’t have done anything, but the issue is that Stoneforge Mystic dominates games where this doesn’t happen.

I assume from the Faithless Looting ban that they want Modern to be a fairer format, but to me the unbanning of Stoneforge Mystic goes in the opposite direction, and I think the combination of the ban and then unban is going to decrease diversity rather than increase it. It feels especially problematic once you remove a powerful red card from the field, as Lightning Bolt is one of the best answers to Stoneforge Mystic and now that card will see less play.

It’s definitely possible I’m going to eat my words here (I thought Jace, the Mind Sculptor was going to be good and it was merely okay), but I think Stoneforge Mystic is too powerful at what it does, so I’d prefer if it had stayed banned.

4. Unbanning Rampaging Ferocidon in Standard was a good decision.

Shaheen Soorani: Fiction for paper, Fact for Arena. This was for pure optics at this point in paper Magic. This will have some healthy ramifications for Arena, allowing players to handle some of the powerful ramp decks that abuse the token rule. I do not think this announcement was timely for Rampaging Ferocidon to have a powerful impact in Core Set 2020 Standard this late in the game.

I hope they consider making changes to Standard in a timelier fashion moving forward. Since the format has rotation marks, it is imperative that these fixes come before the avalanche of tournaments that are now less enjoyable for players, viewers, and fans of the game. I do not think Standard was in a bad enough place for this to be a huge issue. In a darker timeline with Standard being hopeless, this should kick in the minute they see an issue.

Sam Black: Fact. I mean, I guess?

Like, I don’t know that it even matters, since it’s about to rotate and I don’t think there are any Standard tournaments, but it is good against Field of the Dead, Elementals, and Vampires, and making those weaker sounds good. Maybe this makes Jund Dinosaurs good, but at that point I assume we cycle back around to some kind of Esper deck being the best.

Ultimately, no one really cares and anything that encourages people to play more Standard to try to figure it out just because they’re curious is probably a win.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fact. This decision is unlikely to be very right or very wrong, as there are only a couple of weeks of Core Set 2020 Standard left before the rotation, but Rampaging Ferocidon feels to me like a card that makes this format better. If anything, it will enable a branching out of aggressive red decks into different colors, as you no longer need to play Goblin Chainwhirler if you want a powerful three-drop.

5. Four-Color Urza is the Modern deck to beat heading into SCG Dallas this weekend.

Shaheen Soorani: Fiction. I never agree with a “deck to beat” statement in Modern unless the format is a trainwreck. With Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis running wild, I would make that recommendation, but we are now safe from it. Four-Color Urza is probably the best deck in the format; however, there will be an army of players trying to break Azorius Control with Stoneforge Mystic, as well as these freed aggro decks returning from obscurity.

Humans is another deck I would equally worry about. With Faithless Looting gone, Izzet Phoenix and graveyard decks get cleanly knocked out. I see this, Mono-Green Tron, midrange decks with Stoneforge Mystic, control decks with Stoneforge Mystic, combo decks, and Four-Color Urza all populating the new, fun metagame together. I would have a solid plan to beat Four-Color Urza, but I would wager it doesn’t breach 15% of the metagame at any tournament.

Sam Black: Fiction. Week 1 and you think a deck based around a mythic from Modern Horizons is going to be the most-played deck or something? I mean. It certainly might be one of the best decks now, but to me, this Banned List screams “Try your fair decks now!” And to anyone who knows Modern, that screams, “Play Tron and make everyone sad!”

Technically I’d need to know more about the Four-Color Urza VS Mono-Green Tron matchup than I do to be completely sure, and Urza could easily be the deck that takes over Modern in a month or two, but I expect a lot more of decks like Jund and Mono-Green Tron than Four-Color Urza Week 1.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa: Fiction. I think Stoneforge Mystic is a powerful addition to that deck, as it searches up part of your combo while also giving you a very strong Plan B, but I think calling it the deck to beat is a stretch. People will be experimenting with a lot of different things and I expect most lists not to be perfectly tuned.

I also think that this deck benefited from the fact that everyone had to dedicate so many slots for graveyard hate and basically had no room for cards like Stony Silence. Now that both Hogaak and Faithless Looting are banned, there’ll be more room to play the powerful artifact hosers that are available in Modern.